Rare plants are being driven up Scotland's mountains by climate change

Rare Scottish plants including snow pearlwort and drooping saxifrage are being driven up Scotland’s mountains by climate change – and could become EXTINCT if temperatures continue to rise, study warns

  • Several rare plants can be found on the slopes of the Ben Lawers range
  • But the plants require a cool climate at high altitude to flourish
  • As temperatures rise, the plants are retreating further up the mountains 

Rare plants on Scottish mountains could soon become extinct without intervention, research from the University of Stirling has found.

Snow pearlwort, drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort found on the slopes of the Ben Lawers range in the highlands are retreating further up the mountains due to climate change.

The plants require a cool climate at high altitude but due to increasing global temperatures, species are moving to higher ground with drooping saxifrage now found 50 metres from the top of Ben Lawers.

Snow pearlwort (pictured), drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort found on the slopes of the Ben Lawers range in the highlands are retreating further up the mountains due to climate change

Ben Lawers is the most southern point in Europe where the plant grows and it is more commonly found in areas such as the Arctic and northern Scandinavia

Impacts of climate change 

The global rise in temperature due to climate change had led to lowland species colonising upland areas and outcompeting the mountain plants, reducing the area they can grow in. 

And loss of snow cover due to climate change has also removed plants’ protection from freeze-thaws, which cause land slip and rock fall, destabilising the arctic-alpine habitat.

Snow pearlwort has declined by 66 per cent since the mid-1990s, according to the study. 

It has been moved from a vulnerable to endangered conservation threat status by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.

Ben Lawers is the most southern point in Europe where the plant grows and it is more commonly found in areas such as the Arctic and northern Scandinavia.

Sarah Watts, a PhD researcher from the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences and a former seasonal ecologist with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), has spent 12 years monitoring 10 rare species growing on Ben Lawers alongside NTS staff and volunteers, adding to a data set that goes back 40 years.

Miss Watts said: ‘Our research signals a rapid loss of biodiversity happening right now which means that, if it’s allowed to continue on this accelerated trajectory, due to climate change, we will see the extinction of species like these.

She said the global rise in temperature due to climate change had led to lowland species colonising upland areas and outcompeting the mountain plants, reducing the area they can grow in.

Professor Alistair Jump from the University of Stirling warned the findings have ‘worrying global implications’.

He said: ‘In the context of the interacting climate change and biodiversity crises, this research has worrying global implications. 

‘It shows that low-latitude, arctic-alpine plant populations already situated at maximum local elevations are effectively on the elevator to extinction.

‘We face their loss from our mountains because there is no higher ground left for them to retreat to as temperatures continue to rise.’

Ms Watts suggests that the plants are moved to other sites such as botanical gardens or more suitable mountain habitats.

WHAT ARE THE UK’S MOST ENDANGERED PLANTS?

The Ghost Orchid was last seen in 2009 in a Herefordshire wood

1. Ghost Orchid

Status: Critically Endangered 

Best time to see: Unknown

Habitat: Beech wood

Where? Herefordshire

This orchid was thought extinct until it was spotted in Herefordshire in 2009. It usually grows underground in deep leaf litter only rarely popping its white flower above the surface to attract pollinators.

 

The Red Helleborine grows in southern England and is best seen in May, June and July

2. Red Helleborine

Status: Critically Endangered

Best time to see: May, June and July

Habitat: Dark woodland

Where? Southern England

This orchid grows a stem up to 60cm in height that can carry up to 17 flowers that are a deep shade of pink. Plantlife UK said it may have become rare due to a decline in the population of its pollinators and the right habitat for them.

 

Spreading Bellflowers are only found in 37 places in the UK

3. Spreading Bellflower

Status: Endangered

Best time to see: July to November

Habitat: Woodland

Where? Welsh borders and west Midlands

The Spreading Bellflower is only found in 37 10-km square areas in the UK, but in very small numbers. It is threatened by changes in woodland management, such as the end of coppicing and other disturbances, and an increased use of herbicides on roadsides and railway banks.

 

The Crested Cow-wheat grows in East Anglia and other parts of the UK

4. Crested Cow-wheat

Status: Endangered

Best time to see: July and August

Habitat: Rocky Hillside meadows and roadsides

Where? East Anglia and other areas

The plant grows to 15 to 40cm high and produces pink flowers with yellow lips. It grows in meadows, competing with scores of other plants to attract insects.

 

5. Cotswold Pennycress

Status: Vulnerable and Near-Threatened

Best time to see: April and May

Habitat: Farmland

Where? Cotswolds

It sprouts mainly in the Cotswolds, and can be seen growing out of hedges, walls and banks.

Ploughing, the levelling of rough land, increased use of fertilisers and herbicides and neglecting marginal land have all led to the plants gradual demise. It is often choked by thicker smothering plants.

 

The Lady Orchid, which has stunning pink flowers, grows in Kent and Oxfordshire

6. Lady Orchid

Status: Critical

Best time to see: April, May, June

Habitat: Edges of woodland and grassland

Where? Kent and Oxfordshire

This purple-coloured orchid produces large stems of 200 flowers that grow up to 80cm in height. It can be seen growing on the edges of woodland, and sometimes in open grassland.

This meadow plant has been in decline since less land was used for grazing meaning it was smothered by others

7. Meadow Clary

Status: Vulnerable/Near Threatened

Best time to see: Spring and Summer

Habitat: Grassland

Where? Oxfordshire, Chilterns and north and south Downs

This plant declined before 1950 when less land was used for grazing and it was smothered by other coarser plants. It is now found in just 21 areas in the south of England, where it was probably re-introduced through ‘wild flower seed’ mixtures.

The sun loving plant grows in open grassland, and along south-facing hedge banks and the southern edges of woodland.

 

The One-flowered Wintergreen grows in damp, shaded pine forests

8. One-flowered Wintergreen

Status: Vulnerable/ Near Threatened

Best time to see: May, June and July

Habitat: Pine forests

Where? North-east Scotland

This single-flowered plant grows in damp, shaded areas of pine forests. It is clearly visible against the dark soil and rotting pine leaves. The white flower faces downwards from the end of a tall stem, looking a bit like an umbrella

 

The Twinflower is a relic from the ice age

9. Twinflower

Status: Unknown

Best time to see: Spring and Summer

Habitat: Woodland

Where? Scotland

An arctic-alpine plant that is a relic of the ice age, It has two pink bell-like flowers on a slender stem and a thicker stem below that creeps along the ground forming small mats. The Twinflower is considered one of our smallest and most delicate native flowers.

It now grows in just 50 unrelated sites following changes in woodland management.

 

The white-flower orchid has been lost from 75 per cent of the countryside

10. Lesser Butterfly-orchid

Status: Vulnerable/Near Threatened

Best time to see: June & July

Habitat: Woodland, grassland, heathland and wetland

Where? England, Cardiganshire in Wales, and parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland

This white-flower orchid has been lost from 75 per cent of the English countryside since records began. Growing a 30cm-high stem, the plant is now scattered across open areas and those with acidic soil. The best chance of seeing it is in the Cae Blaen Dyffryn Nature Reserve, Wales, which hosts a population that can exceed 3,000 in good years.

The orchids decline may be linked to a symbiotic fungus it depends on to grow, according to Plantlife UK, which is very sensitive to fertilisers and fungicides. Their use on open grassland may have played a part in the plants march towards extinction.

 

The plant prefers Beech and Hazel woods

11. Yellow Birds-nest

Status: Unknown

Best time to see: All year

Habitat: Beech and Hazel woodland

Where? UK-wide

The whole plant is a yellow-brown colour, and tends to grow in leaf litter in shaded woodland. However, it began to decline after 1930, possibly due to changes in woodland management, overgrazing and habitat fragmentation.

Source: Plantlife UK 

Source: Read Full Article